It must have been terrifying for the young runaway.
Lost and alone in the woods of Briarcliff Manor, Peggy didn’t have a friend in the world. She didn’t understand English and certainly didn’t speak it. There was only one way for this girl to survive: She’d have to fend for herself while dealing with coyotes, foxes, ticks and other creatures of the forest.
Thanks to the residents of Briarcliff Manor, Ossining, and several extremely dedicated individuals who pursued her, Peggy’s story has a happy ending.
Peggy is a Cane Corso (Italian Mastiff) pup, only 9 months old when she bolted out of an already-unpleasant life to try to make her own way,
Bred and born in Macedonia, she spent the first few months of her life tied to a tree with no time indoors and little human or canine contact. Her breeder then had her shipped to America – a 20-hour trip in a crate as airline cargo. After retrieving her from the airport, he kept her for two weeks. One day, while tied to a tree on the jobsite where he was working, Peggy slipped out of her collar and escaped. The homeowner offered to catch her, and was told that if successful, he could keep her.
He borrowed a cage trap from an animal rescue agency and managed to catch her.
But Peggy was to be “his” dog for just two days.
She escaped on day one. Somehow, he got her back. On day two, while he held her by the collar in his garage, Peggy heard a loud noise that startled her; the very strong pup pulled away and ran off, and this time, there was no catching her. It was the 24th of June 2023. Thus began a saga of sightings, pursuit, near-misses and ultimate success that had hundreds, if not thousands, of people rooting for Peggy, the wayward pooch.
I saw the signs when they first went up in Briarcliff Manor and Ossining just after the 4th of July. Peggy, on a leash and staring directly into the camera, looking quite powerful and regal. But my heart sank. Even a dog as strong as a Cane Corso would be no match for a pack of ravenous coyotes, and there’s at least one of those packs in the woods behind my house – I hear their group howls almost nightly.
Somehow, Peggy was staying alive, either outrunning or outwitting them.
Her fame began to build. Facebook users on pages like “Rivertown Pets” and “Pawsitively Ossining” documented her overnight appearances on doorbell and surveillance cameras. Residents reported trash cans overturned and garbage strewn across yards, usually a good sign that ravenous Peggy had paid a visit. No one knows where she lived.
Experts volunteered to join the search. Michael Coyne of Heatseeker Drone Services spotted Peggy using a thermal imaging drone. She was sleeping near a home along Holbrook Road; but a passing truck woke her and she dashed away. Rocco Autero, a trained dog tracker, set up feeding stations to work toward her eventual capture. Meredith of Lost Paws Patrol was the first of those in pursuit. In early July, Meredith and other volunteers alerted the community by posting the fliers, but she soon realized that catching Peggy would require equipment she doesn’t have; she called on Teddy Henn of Lost Dog Search and Rescue, on Long Island.
Teddy came so close, so many times. One summer night he was lying on the ground, luring Peggy out of the woods with pieces of hot dog. She came close enough for him to almost grab her using a specialized catch pole, but the click of the trigger release sent her racing away. On other occasions, he nearly succeeded in luring her into live traps, basically large crates that would slam shut when she entered and tugged on the meat lure. But Peggy literally wouldn’t take the bait; despite her hunger, she was suspicious of entering anything that resembled the trap that had caught her the first time.
Summer stretched into fall. Teddy put 10,000 miles on his truck driving the 100-mile round trip from Sayville to Briarcliff more than 100 times. But he continued to pursue her, despite the difficulties. Unlike the 500 other dogs he’s successfully trapped, she only came out at night. Doorbell cameras would catch her outside houses three miles apart on the same night, so she was making rounds of at least six miles, probably more. He called her a ghost. A beautiful ghost.
Teddy pulled into my driveway one night in early December and asked if he could set up his night-vision surveillance cameras on my property. He was certain Peggy was transiting my yard during her nightly rounds. He hoped to try something new because she had stopped visiting other places where he’d tried, without success, to catch her. It was as if she knew…
We set up several feeding stations, bowls of dry dog food usually accented with hot dogs or a filet mignon I’d found in my freezer. The cameras told Teddy she was making regular visits to feed. Unfortunately, so were the coyotes. If a coyote raided the food before Peggy arrived, Teddy would call and I’d refill the bowl.
Peggy was becoming a regular visitor, but Teddy was worried. December was reasonably warm, but cold weather had to be coming. No one knows what kind of shelter this short-haired runaway had fashioned for herself. He knew we had to catch her before a serious snowfall.
He tried a different kind of trap, a Collarum. It’s canine-specific, a spring-powered coiled loop buried just below the soil surface. When armed and baited, the dog pulls the bait and the loop is thrown over its head and around the neck, like a collar, for capture. It has an 80% success rate – but only when the animal approaches from the proper side. Teddy set the trap just off my driveway and left, monitoring the video feed from his truck a block away.
Midnight came. It was now Dec. 24, a full six months since Peggy had run away. Teddy waited. In the wee hours of the morning, a skunk grabbed the bait, tripped the trap and ran away. (The Collarum won’t catch anything smaller than a fox). In the pursuit of Peggy, it was yet another setback.
Fortunately, even though the skunk sprayed when the trap leaped out of the earth, Peggy continued to visit that feeding station. The New Year arrived, and with it, the forecast of our first snowstorm. Teddy felt we had to try the Collarum again; he worried she wouldn’t survive in truly frigid weather.
Wednesday night, Jan. 3. A clearly apprehensive Teddy set the Collarum trap again in the same location. This time, he concealed himself in his truck about 30 feet away so he could scare off any coyotes trying to grab the bait. Several tried.
Around 11:15, Peggy emerged from the darkness and walked up to her traditional feeding station. She smelled and saw the lovely piece of meat waiting there. She looked left and right, ever wary before bending down to eat. Then she dropped her enormous head quickly to grab the bait.
Snap! The cable looped over her head and cinched itself tight. Surprised, Peggy lurched and tried to escape. She bit at the cable. She tugged with all her considerable might, But the trap held tight.
After six months, 10 days, it was over. The Beautiful Ghost was caught.
Teddy and I reached her within a minute. By that time, she was on her belly in my driveway, panting but calm. We had very little trouble getting two catchpoles around her neck, removing the trap cable and getting her into a crate. We carried her into my house. For the first time in months, she was warm and completely safe. She seemed relieved.
So, she’s my dog now. Her previous owner told Teddy he wants nothing to do with her after her multiple escapes. We immediately took her to the vet. She’s in surprisingly good condition for a dog who survived more than six months in the wild, a time when some came to call her the “Garbage Can Queen of Briarcliff/Ossining.” She has no heartworms and no parasites, but she was covered with ticks and has Lyme disease and anaplasmosis, both tick-borne illnesses that are treatable. She weighed 78.5 pounds; the vet says she should be closer to 100 at her age, now 15 months. Trust me, the way she’s eating, it won’t take long.
My fear was that she’d be crazed and wild, a vicious, snarling animal. I was beyond wrong. She’s a quiet, mellow sweetheart who loves to nap on the couch and, perhaps ironically, is reluctant to venture outside.
It’s a very happy ending for Peggy and especially for me. Thanks to all of you who monitored your cameras, reported sightings, put up posters, and picked up your garbage after this Beautiful Ghost spread it all over creation. It took a village, maybe two, to save Peggy. And now that she’s safe, your trash cans are safe as well.
All photos supplied by Jon Scott.